fear

In Over Our Heads

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THIS MESSY LIFE: CHILDHOOD - PART 3

In Over Our Heads
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Exodus 1:8-14

Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph

Exodus 1:8

It’s easy to look at Israel’s slavery in Egypt and see ourselves through the eyes of their eyes as victims of oppression. We too are “God’s people” and so we have a long history of seeing ourselves as the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Societies and governments do not typically bend toward a “Christian worldview” and in most places throughout history, God’s people have found themselves in the minority.

Over the last century in America, however, we have been living in what Gil Rendle calls “an aberrant time” (Rendle, Quietly Courageous). This period of Christian prosperity was not typical in light of the overall history of God’s people. Though that time is rapidly ending, most people over the age of 30 at least have a strong memory of a time when what we considered “Christian moral values” ruled the day. God’s people were thriving, until they were not.

And so it was with the people of God in Joseph’s day. Joseph held the second highest office in the land and as a result, his brothers flourished under Pharaoh and increased in number as the twelve tribes of Israel expanded. By the time we get to Exodus, however, we find a new King in power who did not know Joseph.

“The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if ware breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.”

- Exodus 1:8-10

It seems from this introduction that the enslaved Israelites are not the only ones “in over their heads.” In fact, the only reason they were enslaved to begin with is because the Egyptians felt threatened by the presence of so many foreigners in their land. The new Pharaoh inherited what he considered to be a serious immigration problem. His solution, put them in slavery for Egypt’s benefit and discard (i.e. kill) those who are no longer useful to us. What empires may view as a sign of political strength, scripture interprets as Pharaoh’s weakness and eventual downfall. Egypt was in over their heads in how to deal with the Israelites, not because God’s people posed a genuine threat, but because they were overwhelmed by fear of “the other.”

Yes, we must always empathize with those who like Israel, find themselves oppressed and enslaved. We must always stand with Moses who, by God’s guidance and strength, leads the people out of slavery to a land of promise.

Yet we must also be very careful, for history has a way not only of repeating itself, but also turning things on their heads. The oppressed, if not careful, may themselves become the oppressors. Later in Israel’s history we will see how they build armies of chariots, marry for the sake of political alliances, worship idols, and even enslave others. They would become the very people they once despised, and the consequences would be detrimental.

No matter how much we may want to see ourselves as the victim in need of God’s salvation through a religious and political hero like Moses, perhaps we must first consider why we feel that we are in over our heads. Are we truly being oppressed, or are we perhaps more like Pharaoh, overwhelmed by how much everything is changing around us and afraid of those who are different? If this is the case, perhaps our call is not to vengeance and war, but to humility and peace, lest we too inflict harm against the “sheep of other flocks” (John 10:16) whom God loves and ourselves become enemies of the very God we claim to love.

May we not become so arrogant in identifying ourselves among God’s chosen that we forget God’s promise to Israel’s enemies… to Egypt and to Assyria:

On that Day, there will be a place of worship to God in the center of Egypt and a monument to God at its border. It will show how the God-of-the-Angel-Armies has helped the Egyptians. When they cry out in prayer to God because of oppressors, he’ll send them help, a savior who will keep them safe and take care of them. God will openly show himself to the Egyptians and they’ll get to know him on that Day. They’ll worship him seriously with sacrifices and burnt offerings. They’ll make vows and keep them. God will wound Egypt, first hit and then heal. Egypt will come back to God, and God will listen to their prayers and heal them, heal them from head to toe.

On that Day, there will be a highway all the way from Egypt to Assyria: Assyrians will have free range in Egypt and Egyptians in Assyria. No longer rivals, they’ll worship together, Egyptians and Assyrians!

On that Day, Israel will take its place alongside Egypt and Assyria, sharing the blessing from the center. God-of-the-Angel-Armies, who blessed Israel, will generously bless them all: “Blessed be Egypt, my people! . . . Blessed be Assyria, work of my hands! . . . Blessed be Israel, my heritage!”

Isaiah 19:19-25 (The Message)

Everyone who shall wish me ill

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I arise today...
Through God’s host to save me
from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar or near...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

Paranoia and fear blaze through our culture like a raging forest fire. Everywhere we turn it seems there is someone who wishes us ill, both far and near. They may be as distant as refugees on the border or politicians in Washington or as close as the person sitting on the next pew in church or even across the dinner table in our home. More often than not, such fears are rooted in our perceptions rather than in real threats to our being. The people we are most certain are “out to get us” likely don’t view us as significant enough to bother with.

In some ways, our fear of being harmed flows out of our own sense of pride and our inclination to think of ourselves as more important than we are. I once knew a family who had turned their trailer home on a small rural street into a bunker with an arsenal of assault weapons lined up along hatches they had cut in the outside wall facing the street. They said when ISIS came marching through town to mutilate their daughters and granddaughters that those terrorists wouldn’t get anywhere near their house. Clearly ISIS would not be interested in this tiny little rural crossroads in the middle of nowhere, but the perception made this family feel like they were going to be the saviors of their community. It was as much a delusion of grandeur as it was a delusion of terror that did not actually pose an imminent threat.

It is true that we have enemies. St. Patrick spent his childhood in slavery and in his world the threat of death may have indeed been a real possibility. This portion of the prayer may be particularly valuable for those who are serving in war or on the front lines of local law enforcement or security. It may echo the prayers of powerful people who have made many enemies in their lives. It may even be a prayer on the lips of terrorists or drug lords who are always looking over their shoulder despite the fact that they have put themselves in that situation.

For most of us, however, it may just be that in saving us from those who wish us ill, God must first save us from our illusion that we are such a central target to whoever we may view as our enemies. What if being “saved from our enemies” actually involves being “reconciled with our enemies” through love and forgiveness. An enemy turned friend through the love of Christ is no longer a threat. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was onto something when he said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:43-44

I do not want to diminish in any way that there are some who truly do need salvation from dangerous situations. For those suffering from abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, or any other form of intentional harm against your body or soul, this prayer is for you. May God’s host indeed save you from all who wish you ill, afar and near, and may God place in your paths people who will stand with you against such evil.

But for those who simply see enemies everywhere you look, every time you turn on the news, or every time you see someone who looks or thinks differently than you, maybe God wants to save you from your own fear and paranoia. Maybe God is inviting you to turn an enemy into a friend. Maybe, just maybe, hate and fear could actually be defeated by the power of love.

Could it be that we are truly our own worst enemies?

Reflections:

1. Who is it that you feel you may need saving from? Is the threat legitimate or only perceived? If the threat is legitimate, who might God have placed in your path to help?

2. What triggers your feeling of being threatened? What steps will you take to listen more to the voice of God than the voices of fear in our world?

3. Pray for an “enemy” every day this week by name. If you do not know someone personally, find someone in a news story who you might consider to be “against you” or your beliefs and pray for them. Perhaps a criminal, a terrorist, a politician from “the other party,” etc. Reflect on how God may be changing your view of them as you pray and how God may be calling you to respond.


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I summon today
all these powers between me and those evils, against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

God's Shield

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I arise today...
Through God’s shield to protect me...

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

The Lord is my strength and my shield.

My heart trusts him.

I was helped, my heart rejoiced,

and I thank him with my song.

- Psalm 28:7 (CEB)

In Genesis 15:1, God promises Abraham a great reward. The most literal translation of the Hebrew here reads: “I am a shield to you, your very great reward.”

The key here is not that God will provide some external source of protection or reward, but that God is Abraham’s shield and reward. In Ephesians 6:16, Paul describes the “shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” The key here lies in the object of our faith. What or who do we trust for our security?

As humans, we regularly put our faith in any number of things to provide safety and security in our lives. We trust in our own strength. We trust in job security, education, health-care, retirement funds, our military or police, even our guns. Our currency says, “In God We Trust” but as some have said, a more accurate statement may be “In THIS god we trust”, because in many cases, money itself has become our shield and our god.

On Sundays we go to church to proclaim our trust in God, but the rest of the week we spend building bigger and stronger safety nets to protect us from any worst case scenario. We build our nets so wide that it almost wouldn’t matter if God was there for us or not. Like rebellious adolescents, we essentially say, “I can take care of myself.” It’s almost as if underneath it all, we are afraid that God might not come through and we must have a backup plan. If we truly believe God is the perfect shield, why do we need to arm and protect ourselves so well?

We talk a great deal about security, safety and protection, but in truth, we spend most of lives living in fear. Fear is not the absence of faith. Fear is putting our faith in the wrong things, in things that cannot truly save us.

We have insurance, security systems, weapons and defenses of all kinds. We have law enforcement and neighborhood watches to keep the streets safe. We have shelters that are more than capable of weathering almost any storm. Yet in all of this, we are still afraid. In fact, the industries who produce all of the “shields” we use to protect ourselves actually tell us to be afraid. Fear makes for a wonderful marketing strategy. If you want to sell a warranty, you have to make the customer afraid that the product may break within a certain amount of time. If you want to sell a home security system, you have to convince them their neighborhood is not safe. The great irony here is that all of the people who make a fortune trying to “protect us” are the very ones convincing us that we need protection in the first place.

God is different. God doesn’t promise safety and security the same way an insurance company or a gun dealer might. God doesn’t promise that nothing bad will ever happen.

But in almost every encounter with humanity, God’s first words are “Do not be afraid.”

In fact, this is exactly how God begins with Abraham.

“Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your very great reward.”

Genesis 15:1

Our act of faith in itself does not protect us from anything. God does. God is our shield and God alone protects us.

Reflections:

1. What are you most afraid of?

2. What safety nets do you have in place to protect ourselves? How much time, energy and resources do you invest in these compared to what you invest in our relationship with God?

3. Where have you seen God’s protection in your life?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through God’s host to save me…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer